Make Your Business Go Green Without Going Broke

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Make Your Business Go Green Without Going Broke

Postby GreenRealty » Sat Nov 28, 2009 9:51 am

Make Your Business Go Green Without Going Broke



When the world's biggest retailer offers to pay up, everyone notices. Matt Kistler, senior vice president of sustainability at Wal-Mart(WMT - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr), recently told Reuters that the company is willing to pay suppliers more for higher-quality, environmentally conscious products.

Coming from a company known for known for its aggressive -- perhaps obsessive -- cost-cutting, that's big news.

"When Wal-Mart makes a decision, it has significant impact," says Ron Pernick, co-founder and principal of Clean Edge, a research and publishing firm specializing in clean technologies. "The issue right now is that a lot of green products can't be produced to scale yet. Wal-Mart can leverage the supply chain and drive down costs."

You don't have to be a multinational behemoth to go green. Small businesses can reduce their environmental footprint in any number of ways, from a cleaning service that uses nontoxic products to a PR agency that sends its releases via e-mail (saving both trees and postage costs).

But what exactly makes a product green?

The Web site, for example, sells 150 different categories of household items, from soap to air filters to office supplies.


"In all our categories, the principles are the same, to reduce toxins and waste," says Lawrence Comras, the site's CEO and president. "But the application of those principles is different for each category." For soaps, the ingredients are key criteria (no toxic chemicals or petroleum distillates), while wood furniture is assessed by whether it came from sustainably harvested trees.

Doing your research is especially important here. If you're going to promote your business as eco-friendly, make sure you can back up your claim with specifics.

Otherwise, you'll be accused of "greenwashing": making Earth-friendly claims as a marketing gimmick rather than a serious commitment.

"The lesson for small businesses is to identify with more rigor the eco-attributes of your product or service," Comras says. "The customer is looking at the story behind the product. That's where you can differentiate yourself."


Can a small business make more green by going green? That's the big question.

The market for eco-conscious has clearly expanded: Big retailers are pushing "all-natural" items, and customers have become educated on issues ranging from fair trade to carbon footprints.

But environmental responsibility doesn't come cheap. Will shoppers pay up? Some customers do pay more for products they believe have health benefits, such as parents who buy organic yogurt for their children.

But most people still won't pay a premium for eco-conscious versions of everyday items, says Pernick: "From the consumer's perspective, a green product may be superior in many ways, but the cost has to be the same."

That's where the Wal-Mart effect comes in. By pushing suppliers to make changes in packaging and production, the giant retailer aims to offer green merchandise at the same or only slighter higher prices.

"The big players have to make the changes first," Pernick says. "It only works as a partnership between the consumer, business and government."

Small businesses have some advantages when it comes to going green. They may have more freedom in sourcing materials, for example, and can keep a closer eye on their supply chain. But only a market leader like Wal-Mart can make changes that affect the broader consumer culture.

"You're going to see this play out with the large, multi-national companies," Pernick says. "The liability of not changing is so great that they'll lose out in the long term."

If you don't want to lose out, start looking at your business through a green lens. Just make sure you've got a strong case for being environmentally friendly.

The public is already too smart to be greenwashed.

by Elizabeth Blackwell Source:


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